It has taken a while but an Employment Tribunal has now ruled in Seldon, on its remission from the Supreme Court, that a compulsory retirement age set out in the retirement provisions in the law firm’s partnership deed was a proportionate means of justifying legitimate aims, namely succession planning and the retention of staff. No surprises there. The key guidance remains that given by the Supreme Court which set out pointers for determining the justification of direct age discrimination. Applying those guidelines, the Employment Tribunal noted that a mandatory retirement age has to be a balance of the interests of the practice, the partners and of associates who aspire to partnership. Any determination had to weigh up the needs of the partnership against the harm caused by the discriminatory treatment. The age of 65 was within the narrow range of aims to achieve the two stated aims and the partners had consented to the mandatory retirement age. Moreover the default retirement age at the time was 65. In these circumstances, the retirement age was proportionate.
A warning note was however sounded at the end of the Tribunal judgment where it is stated that the position might have been different if the relevant date had been after the abolition of the default retirement age and after the planned changes in the state pension age. Employers should therefore be wary not to take the Tribunal decision as a basis on which to assume any similar retirement provisions in their partnership deeds are unassailable.
For those intending to go ahead with compulsory retirements this guidance from the European Court which I reported last September may provide some assistance.